Re: Chinese rod numerals

From: Kenneth Whistler (
Date: Mon Jan 12 2004 - 20:45:27 EST

  • Next message: Curtis Clark: "Re: Chinese rod numerals"

    John Jenkins responded:

    > Personally, I think it's an excellent idea.

    I have my doubts, personally, but concur that getting a proposal
    together to debate the merits is a good idea.

    > It'd be good to get it on
    > the UTC agenda for next month, so if you could start on the form. I
    > can give you any help you need.

    > On Jan 10, 2004, at 5:23 AM, Christopher Cullen wrote:

    > > These represent the arrays of "counting rods" on a counting board as
    > > used in China for complex calculations before the invention of the
    > > abacus. There are eighteen forms in all, representing the numerals
    > > one to nine in two forms which are basically versions of each other
    > > with a 90 degrees rotation. One form is used for units, the the other
    > > for tens, then back to the first form for hundreds, and so on. A zero
    > > is represented by a gap in the array. For pictures of these and an
    > > explanatory text, see:
    > >
    > >

    This page does show a few exhibits of tally marks scratched on
    earthenware, presumably using the same system as the counting
    rods. But what is lacking here are actual instances of these
    rod numerals used as characters in writing. The claim is that
    "Computations were actually done using rod numerals." But these
    are only shown in summary figures demonstrating the rod
    numerals used. Such figures are arguably graphics, not characters.
    The numerals are mathematical entities in the calculation
    method, to be sure, but the cited Sun Tzu Suan Ching talks about
    the calculations using rods, but doesn't actually *write* them
    in text. The discussion of the calculations is in terms of the
    ordinary Chinese number characters.

    > > It would be a great convenience to have these
    > > as a standard resource rather than having to create a special private
    > > font in order to represent them.

    The issue comes down to whether we are talking about characters
    in text, or whether we are talking about some glyphs representing
    the usage of counting rods, which might be more convenient if
    available in fonts, rather than being manipulated as graphics
    embedded in text.

    The proposal will need to make the case for encoding *as characters*.

    That said, clearly space for encoding is not an issue, of course,
    for a set of 18 of these things. Character properties, however,
    may be a problem, and should also be taken into account in
    any proposal.

    The obvious precedent for a set of numerals like this are the Aegean
    numerals, U+10107..U+10118, which are also quite obviously derived
    from layouts of tallying sticks, and which have a units set 1-9
    and a tens set 10-90 oriented at right angles to the 1-9 set. But
    the Aegean system used other counters for 100 and up, so there is
    not a problem of alternating values.

    My suggestion would be to just give values 1-9, 10-90 for the
    Chinese rod numerals and be done with it, for the Unicode character
    properties. But the fact that the values are position dependent
    raises the suspicion that this really is a calculation system,
    rather than simply a set of 18 numeral characters, and as such, it
    may be over the edge of what is appropriate to encode in the
    Unicode Standard.


    > >
    > > From a private source, I have been told that these forms are neither
    > > in any current Unicode encoding initiative, nor indeed anywhere in the
    > > proposal pipeline. I should therefore be grateful for any comments or
    > > advice that might guide me towards making a formal submission.

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